Matt’s Top Movies/TV of 2016
Aliens, Puppets and Football
**Warning** — Probably lots of spoilers
This Amazon original appears on the face of it an episodic exploration in being as crass and crude as possible. And boy does it run head first into that territory and without abandon. If you’ve seen FX’s “The League” then you will have a general sense of the comedy that is happening here in Fleabag. However, this comedy is more akin to the spirit of that other FX show Louie and Netflix’s Master of None or more closely, Bojack Horseman. Falling into the new style of comedic television that is dramedy starting with comedy instead drama, Fleabag explores how one woman deals with the grief of losing her best friend.
What is refreshing and powerful about this show, is that Fleabag majorly fucks up everything in her life as she goes through the process of grief. Why I say that is refreshing is because when it comes to seeing others experience grief, we are quick to judge how that person goes through that process. Yes, Fleabag is an ass to everyone and leaves behind a trail of blood in all her wrecked relationships but sometimes we are too quick to squelch people’s grief because they aren’t grieving how we would. The truth is we don’t know how we would act given what she did that caused her friend to die but we might also come to the place where we say, “Who gives a fuck anymore?”, and just plain give up. Watching Fleabag after seeing all many people dismissing the grief that many minorities experienced with the election, further confirmed for me that our culture is pretty shitty at grieving with those who grieve.
4. Sing Street
For longtime readers of the blog, you may already know how much of an 80s music fan I am and Sing Street hits in all the right 80s music nostalgia notes. The original music created for the film perfectly captures the vibe of a variety of 80s musical genres and is as catchy as music originally from the era. Given the director of the film also directed the musically-driven storyline of Once with “Falling Slowly” elevating indie rock to mainstream status, we should not be surprised that the 80s-inspired tunes are well-crafted and instantaneously singable.
But what makes this film great in my mind is the relationship between the brothers. Sure we have all the high school awkwardness to gawk at and the main character trying to win over with his music and style the cool, dropout, hot girl but the heart of this story lies in those moments between the brothers. In my life, I am the oldest brother but Sing Street made me long to have my role reversed and have an older brother who was like the older brother here.
Forget the aliens, they really don’t matter. Sure there is a narrative that it time-bending (well, circular) but this is a film about language and how we often don’t have the same frameworks for our language cross-culturally or interpersonally. The time elements of the film help further confuse the character’s understanding of the alien’s language. Where does one start when trying to communicate linear time to beings who experience past, present and future all at once?
The film couldn’t be more timely, as the election and post-election show how deep misunderstandings of language between various groups has further divided them into an us vs. them mentality. But as a SNL “Black Jeopardy” sketch so perfectly recently portrayed, the concerns of poor whites and blacks are very similar but language and culture have separated them (not to downplay the racism aspects as that is clearly a huge part of the issue too). The ramifications of this also play out in the closest of relationships, as I have come to find out in the past four months of marriage. With different life experiences, families and cultural backgrounds, it is so easy to mistake a “tool” for a “weapon” and Arrival explores that with beautiful cinematography and abstraction of the narrative.
2. OJ: Made in America
Speaking of timely movies… the ESPN movie as part of the 30 for 30 series is as relevant today in regards to race and excessive police force. But more than that the film is really an indictment of many white American’s adherence to colorblindness, which often means that white people won’t see people of color as POC once POC become culturally white. But once a person of color goes outside of white norms, then whites do see color because they are being faced with the POC’s racial and cultural identity. When that happens then white people tend to freak out, just think of all the times that Obama identified with other blacks and what the reaction was. OJ and those around him tried to erase his blackness and as the film heavily suggests this created in him a deep fracturing of his identity.
Instead of the classical twoness of being black in America, OJ sought to be above that and become completely accepted into the white system of power and not under the white gaze. But when OJ was on trial, the trial focused on OJ’s race as of high importance and when the verdict was handed down, the reaction of the country was split mostly on racial lines. For many whites it was a day of sadness, as a black man got away with murder and for blacks it was a day of celebration, as a black man fought the system that was always against blacks and won. With the election of Trump, there is no doubt that colorblindness has not worked and any hope of a post-racial society has been set back for decades. This film profoundly dismantles the myth of colorblindness through the tragic character of OJ and the America that created him.
1. Stranger Things
Has there been anything more perfect on screen this year than Stranger Things? It is an 80s nostalgia trip without being pastiche. From the 80s-inspired score to stylistic choices that mirror the works of Spielberg and dive into the oft-left behind genre of films portraying kids realistically, as they did so well in so many 80s films from Stand by Me to The Goonies. As someone who kinda despises all the remakes of films from any era, let alone the current obsession with remaking classic 80s films, Stranger Things did the right thing by capturing the spirit and atmosphere of 80s films. Because the series entered into the 80s essence more than trying to recreate the magic of a series that previously existed three decades ago, it succeeds at telling a new story while also itching that nostalgic longing for the things I loved about my childhood.